NatLab Mitmach & Experimentierlabor

students in labe

Aims 

Increase pupils’ interest in science. Introduce a realistic and modern picture of science.
Contribute to science education. Train pre-service teachers. Train in-service teachers. Publicity for the university

Argument for inclusion

One example of the RECs being organized in the GENAU-Network Berlin, Germany; well established REC.

Relevant information in short

Main Research Partners

Scientists from the department  of the Freie University of Berlin (about 20),  from other research institutions (2) and  from industry (1); GenaU (Local network of 11 informal science laboratories)

Educational partners

Ministry of Education in Berlin
LISUM (Center for post-service teacher training)

Other partners

12 European partners in the European project Pollen
(http://www.pollen-europa.net)
Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Age classes

 4th to 6th grade (Age: 9 – 12); 11th to 13th  grade (Age: 16 -19).
School classes in groups of up to 30 pupils

Thematic orientation

Biology (high school), Chemistry (high school), Science (primary  school)

Main Focus

Let pupils experience hands-on science; pre- and post-service teacher training

Duration of activity

Since 2002

Resources

Freie Universität Berlin (staff, running costs), Ministry of Education in Berlin (staff), Robert Bosch Foundation, Lernort Labor (LeLa) - Center for Consulting and Quality development, TSB Technology foundation Berlin, European Union, Atotech GmbH

Website

http://www.natlab.de/, http://www.tuwas-deutschland.de/

Contact person

Dr. Petra Skiebe-Corrette

Context and conditions

NatLab, which is an informal science laboratory, was founded 2002 by Prof. Rewicki (chemistry) and Prof. Menzel (biology). In 2004, a position for the director of NatLab was created by the University administration and Dr. Petra Skiebe-Corrette was appointed. In addition, the Ministry of Education in Berlin appointed a chemistry teacher (Dr. Bernd Richter) to work half time in NatLab. The department of biology, chemistry, pharmacy added a technician. Laboratory and office space and the basic running costs are covered by the central university administration. 

In 2002, NatLab focused only on high school students. The aim was to build a bridge between high schools and the university. High school pupils should experience the way science is done at the university level. The development of the different topics was paid for by a grant of the Robert Bosch foundation. In 2005, NatLab received a grant from“Lernort Labor”  to develop a program for 4th to 6th grade classes. In Berlin, these grades belong to primary school. It became quickly clear, though, that NatLab could not satisfy the demand of all primary schools in Berlin. Berlin has about 400 primary schools, which have two to four parallel classes, which adds up to about 1200 classes per grade level.
Net-Lab Logo
NatLab is a member of the network of informal science laboratories in Berlin and Brandenburg, which are two of the states in Germany. This network is called GenaU (“Gemeinsam für naturwissenschaftlich-technischen Unterricht, Together for science and technology in the classroom) and has eleven different members. These are informal science laboratories of universities, research institutes and science museums, which all want to increases the interest of pupils in the sciences through hands-on experiments. The advantages of being a member are to exchange experiences and to learn from each other, e.g. how to do teacher training. Another advantage is that within a network, each of the members is more visible than alone. It is easier to get the attention of the community, the school administration and politicians in general. For some grants, it is beneficial and necessary to work together.  

Teacher with students
In order to bring the informal science laboratory into the class room, NatLab is one of the partners of a European project called “Pollen”, whose aim is to increase hands-on, inquiry-based science in primary class rooms. “Pollen” is doing this by inservice teacher training and material support. Important in “Pollen” is also the international collaboration and the evaluation. “Pollen”  is financed by the European Union and aims to introduce the ideas of inquiry-based science education outside of the 11 Pollen schools and to ensure that the concepts of the Pollen project continue after the end of Pollen in June 2009, the initiative “TuWaS!” (Technik und Naturwissen­schaften an Schulen, Technologie and Science in Schools) was founded. “TuWaS!”  translates to „DoSomething“.“TuWaS!” is an initiative of both the Freie Universität Berlin and the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin –Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, formally Prussian Academy of Sciences).

Activities and Contents

The experiments which are performed by the pupils have been developed by scientists who are experts in that particular field. The pupils are only allowed to visit the laboratory after their teachers have participated in teacher training, which is provided by the scientists who developed the experiments. During the teacher training, the teacher performs the same experiments that their students will perform. In addition, background information is given. The teacher training lasts three to six hours, depending on the topic. 

The visit of the pupils normally lasts 4 hours (9 am to 1 pm). Three different experiments are offered, but each of the pupils only does one of these experiments. The group as a whole performs all experiments. The pupils work in groups of two or three. Each of the experiments can be done by at least two groups. The pupils not only do the hands-on experiments, but also give a short talk explaining their experiment and the results they obtained.

students with skeletal remains

During the visit to NatLab, the pupils are helped by university students as part of a university teacher training course. One of the aims of these courses is the early exposure of pre-service teachers to school pupils. These student teachers can assess their abilities to teach with a small group of pupils within the safe environment of the university. They also learn how exciting it is to do hands-on experiments and that performing experiments with school students is challenging but rewarding. 

At the moment; Natlab offers experiments for the following topics:

  1. neurobiology and behaviour; evolution; photosynthesis; genetics and development electrochemistry; chemistry of polymers; (all for
    high school);
  2. coloured building materials, life in a drop of water (for primary school).

In 2007, NatLab was visited by 3446 pupils, trained 246 teachers and 41 university students.

In addition, NatLab participated in a summer school for high school students, Girl’s day, Kids’ university, “lange Nacht der Wissenschaften” (open house for science institutions in Berlin), and other initiatives.
As part of the Pollen project, teaching materials and teacher training have been offered to a select group of primary schools for the following topics: Chemical tests, Motion and design, Microworlds, Electrical circuits.

Methodologies

  • Hands-on: school visits and teacher training are centred on hands-on experiments.
  • Inquiry-based learning: All experiments are part of a learning cycle, which starts with examining the knowledge that the pupils already have, followed by the experiment and an interpretation of the and presentation of the data.
  • Working in groups: during their visit the pupils work in groups of two to three and there are two or three groups working on the same type of experiment. For the presentation, the groups which have performed the same experiment work together to prepare and give the presentation.
  • Practice making a presentation: In Germany, the ability to make a presentation is an important skill that high school students should have. Presenting the results of an experiment to a group of peers allows pupils to practise this important skill.
  • Practical teaching experience for university students: By teaching pupils in small groups, pre-service teachers gain experience in teaching and experience the differing abilities of groups of pupils from different schools. They also experience the importance of hands-on activities and inquiry-based science teaching.

Curriculum relevance

All of the topics taught in NatLab are relevant to either the high school biology or chemistry curriculum, or are part of the science curriculum of the primary schools.

Mutual benefits

Four different groups of people involved in NatLab: scientists, pupils, university students and teachers. The interaction of these four groups during teacher training and school visits allows an important link between the schools and the university.

Evaluation /feedbacks

The model of NatLab combines the visits of pupils to the university with courses for students. The prerequisite for the pupil’s visit is the post-service teacher’s training. The model of combining pre- and inservice teacher training with the visit of pupils has been honoured by three different awards (2005, Lela Award, 2006, Lela Award, 2006, Award of the Robert Bosch Foundation).

Limits and possibilities

It would be excellent if every pupil would be able to visit an informal science laboratory a number of times during primary and secondary school. In Berlin, however, the number of schools makes this goal impossible. Thus, it is all the more important that student teachers have the opportunity to be trained in such an informal science laboratory, so that they can incorporate the principles of hands-on, inquiry-based science teaching in their classrooms.

Pictures from the Nat-lab website